One year ago on Mother's Day, a jubilant group of New Orleanians was second-lining behind the Original Big 7 Social Aid & Pleasure Club at the club's annual Mother's Day procession in the Seventh Ward. About 1:45 p.m. May 12, as the bands and marchers reached the corner of Frenchmen and North Villere streets, a fusillade of gunfire strafed the peaceful crowd. Within seconds, 20 people had been injured by bullets or in the crowd's frantic attempt to escape. Some crimes still shock even violence-inured New Orleanians. The Mother's Day shooting of 2013 was one of them.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas promised the shooters would be found — quickly. Surveillance footage released to the public showed a man in a white T-shirt raising a 9mm handgun and firing into the crowd before running away. In less than a week, police arrested brothers Akein and Shawn Scott. Akein Scott, the alleged shooter, was no stranger to cops; he was an alleged affiliate of the Frenchmen/Derbigny street gang. At the time, he was scheduled to appear in court the following week, and just before the shooting he was out of jail on a $15,000 bond.
After the shooting, Orleans Parish Magistrate Gerard Hansen set Akein Scott's bond at $20 million — half a million dollars for each count of attempted murder. Scott and his alleged cohorts have not yet gone to trial. They are scheduled to appear in federal court next month. Trial is set for June 16 before U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle.
In March, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. announced a federal indictment of members of the Frenchmen/Derbigny street gang, along with a superseding indictment alleging that Akein and Shawn Scott fired into the crowd as part of a drug conspiracy. "This superseding indictment reflects the results of the [Multi-Agency Gang] Unit's outstanding work," Polite said in a statement. "Let this be a signal to the entire community: Those who terrorize our streets through drug trafficking and gun violence will be brought to justice."
The victims of the Mother's Day shooting, however, are left to find their own closure.
After 12 surgeries, two months in the hospital and months of recuperation at home, Gambit second-line correspondent Deborah "Big Red" Cotton finally is able to attend and document some of the second lines she has loved and championed. When she picked up her notepad and camera a few years ago, second-line culture wasn't widely known outside New Orleans (or, for some, within our city). More than anyone else, Cotton has brought the sights, sounds and joy of second lines to audiences who had never known them up close.
It's a testament to Cotton's activism that, right after the incident, Serpas stressed that second-line culture was not to blame for the shootings. It's a testament to her professional credibility that where she was once the only journalist publishing maps and guides to the Sunday parades, it's now a practice spread across New Orleans media. And it's a testament to her tenacity that despite internal injuries that made her survival questionable (including the loss of a kidney and parts of her stomach) Cotton is with us, back on the second line as she's able.
Twenty years ago on Mother's Day, a third-grader named James Darby was killed in a hail of gunfire as he went home from a Mother's Day picnic. That shocked the conscience of New Orleanians. Last year, it was 19 people shot, 20 injured — another shock to the system.
In an opinion piece published in The Lens, Cotton wrote, "Everyone says enough is enough, but the city keeps barreling down the same murderous road to the same murderous outcomes. We won't get change until people stop being so deferential to politicians, until we start demanding accountability for the money, until resources are applied to programs that we know can make these young men whole."
Last year, Gambit ran a cover photo essay by local photographer Sabree Hill, who told the stories — in words and pictures — of grieving New Orleans mothers who had lost their children to our violent streets in the last few years. Their names, and their children's names, may not be as familiar as the names of James Darby and Deborah Cotton, but their pain is the same. On this Mother's Day, the best way we can honor their memories — and the memories of all New Orleans mothers — is for this never to happen again.